Global businesses set a shining example to governments at the Cancun climate talks this week when the Consumer Goods Forum, a consortium of over 400 companies, pledged to implement climate-friendly refrigeration using natural refrigerants.

Greenpeace, which has led a 20-year campaign on the refrigerants issue, expects companies like Unilever, Coca-Cola, Carrefour, Ahold, Nestle, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Kraft, General Mills, L’Oreal, Walmart and others to put forward a timeline for the phase out of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, by 2015. HFCs have very high global warming potentials (100-3000 times that of carbon dioxide.)

Governments must now match the voluntary progress of the Consumer Goods Forum with a binding ban on HFCs. This corporate initiative signals a need for policy actions to create further incentives for a shift to cheap and available climate-friendly alternatives. When corporations step out ahead of legal obligation and demonstrate climate leadership, they show policy makers that climate change is an opportunity for economic transformation, setting the stage for stronger policy frameworks. 

And participants in the climate negotiations need just such a reminder. While some companies are already leading, governments need to continue to raise the bar and demonstrate climate leadership in Cancun and beyond.

Greenpeace, usually known as an aggressive opponent to corporate polluters, also works collaboratively with big businesses that demonstrate bold leadership on pressing global environmental issues. Our Cool IT Campaign works with the Information Technology (IT) sector to drive the progress of IT companies and IT technologies toward inducing an economy-wide shift to clean energy and energy efficiency.

IT companies have an economic interest to ensure widespread adoption of their carbon-cutting technologies and climate solutions, such as smart grid and energy management systems. Many of the top global IT brands – Google, Ericsson, Microsoft, Cisco, and others – are at this week’s climate talks in Cancun to do just that. These companies have great potential to drive low-carbon innovation and use their political prominence to advocate for policies that catalyze a clean energy transformation.

But how IT companies currently measure up to that potential will be revealed next week when the Cool IT Campaign launches its 4th IT Leaderboard, a ranking of the top IT brands on climate leadership. Last year, Cisco topped the ranking for best performance overall across the Leaderboard’s three main criteria: climate solutions development, mitigation of a company’s own energy footprint, and political advocacy. Google earned top marks for political advocacy in the past, but many of the IT companies are still sitting on the sidelines, waiting for governments to act first.

But increasingly, consumers are demanding that companies walk the walk, and consumer brands are pouring more money than ever into measuring their supply chain impacts and mitigating their carbon footprint. So while there are good examples of companies, in the IT sector and beyond, beginning to take action on climate change, the business community needs to dramatically increase its efforts by pushing policy makers to follow suit.

Paul Dickinson from the Carbon Disclosure Project calculates that only 35 percent of the world's 500 largest companies are engaging with policy agencies and governments to drive climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

Companies need to engage with policy makers to hasten a shift to clean energy and spur green economic growth. Strong climate policy offers a real opportunity, both for business and the planet.